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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Practice Makes Perfect

posted by on July 10 at 9:00 AM

The New York Times comes out strongly against Dr. James Holsinger, George W. Bush’s nominee to be the next surgeon general. While noting that Holsinger holds some positions that could be regarded as progressive—not anti-cloning in all instances, supports higher cigarette taxes—the NYT slams the fundy doctor for a controversial paper he wrote about the gays back in 1991. Written for a church publication, not a scientific publication, Holsinger’s paper—“Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality”—argued that gay sex is abnormal and unhealthy, and “that anal sex can lead to rectal injuries and sexually transmitted diseases,” in the words of the NYT.

Of course gay anal sex can lead to rectal injuries and spread sexually transmitted disease—but so can straight anal sex, which is increasingly popular:

Every couple of years, another once-scandalous sex taboo starts making its way toward the commonplace. A decade ago, blow jobs were what people whispered about; then three-ways became the naughty bedroom act. Now, it’s anal sex—but according to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Survey of Family Growth, it’s rapidly becoming a regular feature of hetero couples’ horizontal activities.

The survey, released last year, showed that 38.2 percent of men between 20 and 39 and 32.6 percent of women ages 18 to 44 engage in heterosexual anal sex. Compare that with the CDC’s 1992 National Health and Social Life survey, which found that only 25.6 percent of men 18 to 59 and 20.4 percent of women 18 to 59 indulged in it.

Naturally, Holsinger is a proponent of abstinence education (like a certain hooker-banging GOP senator that I would mention by name if God hadn’t already forgiven him), or sex-ed that seeks to prevent sexual activity by keeping people ignorant about sex and terrifying them with horror stories about STDs and injuries that could be prevented with good technique and proper lubrication.

Amazingly… the NYT, uh, goes there. They call Holsinger out not only on his gay bashing but on… well, let’s just go to the editorial:

Dr. Holsinger did not brand the large number of heterosexual women who engage in anal sex as abnormal, failed to acknowledge the huge burden of disease spread heterosexually and implied that women are more likely than men to avoid injuries with generous lubrication.

Whoa… generous lubrication. I’m sure Americans enjoyed reading that over breakfast.

Unfortunately this otherwise stellar editorial is marred by the use of the term “homosexual” to describe the gays—which some people have a problem with—and the archaic phrase “practicing homosexual” to describe, um, all those gay buttfuckers out there using generous amounts of lube to avoid injuring all those fucked gay butts. Says Michelangelo Signorile

Let’s all write the Times and let them know that we are not a coven of witches “practicing” our craft. Nor are we a group of kids “practicing” our playing of musical instruments, or “practicing” gymnastics or “practicing” French! And we are not lawyers, doctors or accountants, who decide to hang out a shingle when we want to “practice.” All of these are religious beliefs, learned activities, and business professions. The implication is: “Homosexuals” are “practicing” their cultish, acquired, and/or often for-sale (those gay hustlers!) sexual “practices” while heterosexuals, of course, are doing something much more, well, natural and about love or whatever.

Just by using that term, the editorial undermines the very point it is trying to make. Holsinger has been attacked for supporting a church that reportedly believes in “ex-gay” therapies and he clearly believes that people can be “indoctrinated” into homosexuality. Describing homosexuality as something you can “practice” it until you get it right sure goes a long way toward helping Holsinger’s cause.

UPDATE: Uh, gee. I’m on vacation, and perhaps I shouldn’t be posting at all. My kid was tugging at my arm and trying to shut my laptop when I was writing this, and I wasn’t finished, and I didn’t mean to post it until after I got back from lunch. But I saved it as a scheduled post and not a draft and it posted itself while I was at lunch. Whoops.

Anyway, I meant to include my own thoughts after the item from Signorile’s blog, and what I wanted to add was this…

The NYT editorial was the lead freakin’ editorial, and it was righteous and pro-homo, practicing and otherwise, and perhaps we shouldn’t jump down the throats of our allies—and the editorial column at the NYT is certainly a friend of the ‘mos—too aggressively because, hey, their generously lubricated hearts are in the right places.

But I think Signorile has a point: it is jarring to see “practicing homosexual” in an otherwise supportive editorial from the always-suportive NYT. The term is kinda stoopid for the reasons Signorile ticks off, and someone should nudge the editors at the NYT about it. I can’t imagine it was intentional or mean-spirited. But I don’t think we need to flood their offices with outraged letters. I mean, it’s hard to imagine the NYT writing an editorial like that—coming to the defense of the ‘mos, copping to hetero anal sex, endorsing generous lubrication—ten years ago. It was breathtaking and progressive and right fucking on.

One other quibble: “Dr. Holsinger did not brand the large number of heterosexual women who engage in anal sex…” Unless all those heterosexual women are engaging in anal sex with, er, other heterosexual women, there are large numbers of heterosexual men out there engaging in anal sex too—as active and passive partners. So today it’s “generous lubrication” in a NYT editorial. I can’t imagine we’ll have to wait much longer before they NYT editorial page gets pegged.

RSS icon Comments


Oh my god, "generous lubrication." That's just hilarious. Ample wouldn't have been nearly as funny. Nor would adequate.

Generous, as in unselfish, giving. Here, baby, I have a gift for you. It goes with my cock, now bend over.

Posted by bitch on heels (perfecting homosexuality) | July 10, 2007 9:08 AM

Oh STFU, Michelangelo Signorile. Homos who get bent over the word "homosexual" really bum me out when we got all kinds of bigger fish to fry. "Practicing homosexual" is awkward, but I'm not going to waste my time harassing my allies when I've got so many enemies, you know?

Posted by gaybot | July 10, 2007 9:21 AM

We sure do seem to be getting offended a lot. I realize there's a need for being offended, what with the other side trying so hard and all. But you know, I getting tired of being offended all the time.

Practicing Homosexual? Well, I am a homo and I do practice as often as possible. Nope, not offended.

Posted by monkey | July 10, 2007 9:24 AM


This is at best a very mild offense. Sure, strictly speaking, "practicing" is rather ridiculous, and implies that homosexuality is a learned behavior. But compared to the hateful bile that we hear from the religious right, I can't get myself too worked up over this.

I can't wait till my boyfriend gets home so I can practice on him. With some generous lubrication. Because, you know, otherwise I might forget I'm gay.

Posted by SDA in SEA | July 10, 2007 9:35 AM

Signorile really needs something better to do.

Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | July 10, 2007 9:49 AM

I too, abjure the odious phrase, "practicing homosexual," for practice negates perfection, and without perfection, there can be no fabulosity.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | July 10, 2007 9:50 AM

Some miss the point on this issue with the idiot's nomination. Look who is on the Senate committee that is going to be interviewing him! Hillary, Obama, Dodd... (think about this) The GOP is trying to get the Presidential hopefuls with some great sounds bites that will make the Dems look like they are favorable to gays and lesbians and hate Jesus. It is not about actually confirming this asshole, it is all about the sound bites for 2008.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | July 10, 2007 9:51 AM

Most men, het and gay, need more than a little practice.

And obviously, if more hets are going for anal sex then they're finally discovering what men have been lying for, crying for and dying for all these years - it simply can't be beat. Thanks Maxim Magazine!

In true Republican fashion, you just know that Holsinger (nice name BTW) is the biggest ass slut on the DL. Eww, I shouldn’t have written that.

Posted by Original Andrew | July 10, 2007 9:52 AM

Although, the phrase "practicing homosexual" does give new meaning about that joke about getting to Carnegie Hall.

Posted by Gitai | July 10, 2007 9:54 AM

that signorile quote made me choke on my cereal. so awesome. but yah i hate the 'H' word and a big fuck you to everyone above me for not understanding how important it is to get rid of that word. you may not see it as a priority, but i personally would rather work on getting the newspapers to quit using that word than to get more gay folks in the military.

Posted by and | July 10, 2007 10:18 AM

It's time to drop the H-Bomb!

Posted by NapoleonXIV | July 10, 2007 10:22 AM

@and: I may be a complete hetro moron, but why is the "h-bomb" offensive? I always thought it was just a descriptive word. The "practising" bit is ridiculous, so I get that. I am not trying to be offensive, I just truly don't get why it would be wrong to say...and also never knew that it was offensive to anyone.

Posted by Original Monique | July 10, 2007 10:28 AM

Original Monique: The America Blog post by John Aravosis appears to explain why.

While I get the negative connotations of the term, yeah, can't gays just "reclaim" the term, just like they reclaimed "queer", "fag", and yes, "gay"? Plus, without "homosexual", terms like "heterosexual" and "bisexual" just seem so lonely and incomplete.

Posted by Gloria | July 10, 2007 10:36 AM

Did you mean "marred" when you said "married"? Is that a Freudian slip?

Posted by Sigmund | July 10, 2007 10:41 AM

for some reason my post didnt work, but yah, read the link that dan posted and the links inside it for a pretty good explanation. @13 but like, what if we don't want to reclaim it? why am i supposed to reclaim every word that i find offensive to make myself feel better? i dont want it you can have it if you want. in fact if you people want to keep calling yourself heterosexual and bisexual please feel free to continue, that's your own problem, but at least you get to decide for yourself.

Posted by and | July 10, 2007 10:42 AM

I kinda like "homo," and acknowledge that it's reclaimed. Homosexual is sterile, but funny at times. I can't get upset about it. I'm trying and trying, but I just can't. (Those labeling me an angry dyke, take note.)

Back to homo: it's not inclusive. That's my biggest problem with it. While we're on the subject, do we have to say LGBTQIA...? I object primarily because there's no noun form as in, "I am an LGBT..."

Queer is just fine for me & mine, but for example, in a conversation with an older relative, she informed me, "I hate that word." I tried to explain reclamation to her, but she is, well, in her sixties, and pretty hetero. And when I explained what LGBTQIA... stood for, she was stymied.

We are complex, it's true. But let's get a good, simple, inclusive word with multiple parts of speech going that I can use at the PTA and the sex toy store alike. Whaddya say?

Posted by bitch on heels | July 10, 2007 10:54 AM

@15: What do you say on making terms like "heterosexual" and "bisexual" offensive and outdated too? Then we can get rid of the whole freakin' group, and not just leave bits and pieces lying around.

Posted by Gloria | July 10, 2007 11:16 AM

@2 Michelangelo Signorile has a point in wanting to get rid of that antiquated term, and you're just perpetuating the status quo by attempting to silence him. People will not learn unless you point it out to them that the word(s) that they are using hurts. I know I get a quirk in my stomach everytime someone says "homosexual" instead of "queer" or "gay" when referring to me . Normally, people/allies will not be offended if you point out to them in a nice and calming tone that the word isn't preferred anymore and that it offends you.

In turn, those allies can use those terms to their non-ally friends, and thus those people will quit using it.

Posted by David | July 10, 2007 12:39 PM

@18: Normally, people/allies will not be offended if you point out to them in a nice and calming tone that the word isn't preferred anymore and that it offends you.

Very true. Maybe it's a result of straight privilege combined with good old intellectual laziness; if we don't feel we "have" to think about the language the same way that queers do, we just won't. And especially living outside of urban centers or other relatively progressive areas, you're talking about a lack of savvy rather than malevolence. I think you'll find that most people, especially those identifying as allies, are pretty receptive, though. Mention it once, and anyone whose company is worth keeping will likely understand.

Posted by Darcy | July 10, 2007 1:31 PM

Why are higher cigarette taxes "progressive"? Given that more working-class people smoke than rich people, I would have thought it, quite precisely, "regressive"...

Posted by Goof | July 10, 2007 1:54 PM

Dan... quit posting and get back to having fun with your family, we can wait till you're back!

Posted by 2lesbianmoms | July 10, 2007 2:37 PM

@12 Original Monique, congratulations on apparently being the only other person in the entire freaking world who knows how to spell "practising". The rest of you, hang your heads! I can feel myself turning into A. Birch Steen here.

Fascinating titbit: my 1963 edition of Fowlers Modern English Usage gives 'homo' as an abbreviation for 'homosexual' as a noun, but elsewhere insists that the first syllable of 'homosexual' should rhyme with 'Tom'. Has anyone anywhere ever referred to anyone as a 'hommo' with a straight (so to speak) face?

Posted by Matthew | July 10, 2007 2:51 PM

Matthew, "practising" is wrong, or at least secondary, in the United States. "Practicing" is definitely NOT wrong, as you suggest. Similarly, the pronunciation you mention is British, not American. And you're misunderstanding it; just because the first syllable of "homosexual" rhymes with "Tom" in British English, that does not imply "hommo" -- an abbreviated usage which would never occur to a Brit. Poofter, maybe.

Posted by Fnarf | July 10, 2007 4:11 PM

I agree to stop writing "practicing homosexual" as soon as the MSM and the Stranger's staff (are you reading this ECB?) stop using "wheelchair bound." I'm looking in the mirror, and guess what, no ropes or chains.

Posted by suren~o | July 10, 2007 4:13 PM

When I was in college, back in the late 80s, I would get in trouble if I used the term "gay" to everyone who liked those of their own gender. Because gay just applied to men, and was disempowering of women. Or womyn. I had to say "gays and lesbians." Then of course along came GLBT as an adjective.

I sort of thought the whole language war thing was long over. Guess not.

Posted by Big Sven | July 10, 2007 4:41 PM

I think everyone is overstating the implications of "practicing homosexual." It's not a matter of equating it to a cult or a game, it's simply distinguishing between people who are gay and engage in sexual activity with members of their sex, and people who are gay but choose to be celebate or engage in differently-gendered sex they're not particularly interested in. Are there better terms for this? The distinction is becoming less relevant as it becomes more "okay" to be gay, but it still exists.

Also, law and medicine are also things one "practices", not just witchcraft or sports. Why assume a negative connotation of the word?

Posted by Aislinn | July 10, 2007 6:00 PM

I thought "wheelchair bound" meant "headed towards one", as in "that idiot skateboarding on the edge of that roof is wheelchair bound".

Posted by Fnarf | July 10, 2007 6:08 PM

Man, Homosexual is too many syllables anyway. I get tired halfway through it. I like Dan's "Mo", because I can just put my lips together and exhale without any of that fancy enunciating.

Posted by Chris | July 11, 2007 1:38 AM

I've actually liked the word "homosexual". Etymoligically its as benign as "heterosexual". Just the logic of greek words strung together. Neutral really. Of course I understand that connotatively that word has been dragged through the mud, and I can understand if gay people wouldn't like being called it. Needless to say I don't call my gay friends that.

But imagine destigmatizing the word that our enemies still enjoy using? Some science articles defending the normalness of gayness use the h-word and I think they owe that. After all, science used it in the wrong way, now they can use it in the right way.

Homosexuality is beautiful and heaven's miracle and wonder. It enhances my heterosexuality and heterosexuality everywhere. We are brothers.

Posted by Harry Nagendra | July 11, 2007 3:18 AM

I don't get it. why is the word homosexual offensive? is heterosexual offensive (you use quite a lot!!!)?
it only means 'same sex partners', like heterosexual means you like sexual partners that aren't your same sex. is that offensive?

Posted by girl in spain | July 11, 2007 8:29 AM

The issue with "practicing" is that you don't "practice" who you are. You don't call someone s "practicing" African-American or a "practicing" left handed person. Nor do you ever hear about "practicing" heterosexuals.

The better way to do it is to describe someone as sexually active... It works both ways - you could be a "sexually active" hetrosexual or a "sexually active" homosexual or lesbian. See? Easy. As Dan says, it's not a huge deal - but it is something. Because it assumes that the "practice" of homosexuality is sex - rather than say, love or affinity.

In other anal sex news - how about the article">">article in Details about how anal sex is a badge of honor for straight guys. Charming.

Posted by Allie | July 11, 2007 9:36 AM

I don't get it either. I'm sure straight people refer to themselves as "straight" more often than "heterosexual" as well, I personally prefer to say "bisexual" rather than "bi," I don't see anything wrong with using "homosexual" in a more professional field like journalism to describe the gay community. "Gay" just seems a bit more...casual?

It's just like saying "african american" instead of "black."
"Practicing" homosexual is just a kinda weird and poor choice of words. But I don't find it offensive, certainly.

Posted by lalala | July 11, 2007 11:05 AM

I asked the public editor at the NYT about this, and here's the response I got from Andrew Rosenthal, the editor of the editorial page:

The point was to express Holsinger's views with as much precision as
possible. His claim, and that of his church, is that they have no objection
people being gay, as long as they don't have sex with others of the same
gender. This is doctrtne in many religions and we may think it's a
distinction utterly without a difference, but if we had said he objects to "homosexuals" or "gay men" then he could have said, "No, that's wrong factually."

And he never said in his paper that being gay is dangerous. He said
having anal sex is dangerous, specificallly for men who have it with other

To the writer, yes, it's awkward and unsatisfactory, but in fact what
is at issue here is the activity, not the orientation. At least in the mind of
Dr. Holsinger. And yes, in this context, you'd have to say "practicing

Perhaps it would be better to say, "Gay men who are sexually active,"
but then that's not even right. "We'd have to say, gay men who engage in
anal sex with other men."

The sad fact is that our language is not subtle enough for this sort of

Posted by mp | July 11, 2007 2:50 PM

I think it's more than a little dumb to take the term "homosexual" as an ephithet, because uhm...Heterosexual would then have to be an insult also.
And I don't even get why people consider words like "oriental" insulting...They're fucking technical, people, get over it. It's what words mean, not how their said, that we're fighting over, anyway.
Someone for whom the term "homosexual" has a negative connotation, isn't going to suddenly feel like "Oh that's wonderful!" at their associations with the word "gay", because it still means men fucking other men in the ass to them, et al.

Posted by Juliet | July 11, 2007 3:57 PM

First, #34, "oriental" is now taken to be insulting because it means from the east. East of what? East of Europe, center of white people's civilization, of course. It suggests that people from Asia only have meaning in relation to Europeans and their descendants (although one must admit that Asia is west of North America).

OK, I know that PC objection, but I'm taking this opportunity to ask about LGBTQIA. What, pray tell, is the difference between a queer and a lesbian or gay man? I always thought I was hip, but I guess I've been living away from Seattle too long.

I never really got how "gay" came to mean men only, anyway. When my friend came out to me in the early 80s, she said she was gay (duh, like we didn't already know that--she was geared up for some hate, and we all just shrugged. Poor thing. What an anticlimax.). I'm against having to label everyone, but if we're going to, why can't it just be GBTIA?

Posted by margochanning | July 12, 2007 10:07 AM

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